James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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The Lightning’s optimism took some serious hits on Friday

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The story of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2016-17 season often feels like “one step forward, two steps back.”

Thursday represented the step forward, and it even sort of felt it that way that night. Friday provided the two steps back: the Lightning dropped a humbling 4-0 loss to the Washington Capitals. The Bolts also left the game far less healthy, a significant bummer since injuries have already been an issue for the Lightning.

About the best news is that Victor Hedman seems like he’s OK after an injury scare.

Jonathan Drouin and Braydon Coburn may not have been so lucky. Both players were unable to return from their injuries on Friday, and as the Tampa Bay Times’ Roger Mooney reports, their outlooks are unclear at the moment.

So, the Lightning suffered an embarrassing loss and might have dealt with injury losses, too. Quite a way to sweep away the goodwill they were seemingly building just the night before.

One step forward, two steps back.

Matthews wins in Arizona return, Doan scores 400th goal in 1500th game

If you look at the standings alone, Friday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – Arizona Coyotes game is pretty insubstantial.

Instead, it was brimming with storylines as the Maple Leafs beat the Coyotes handily with a 4-1 score.

For one thing, Shane Doan became the sixth player to play 1,500 games with a single team, but that wasn’t the only milestone of the night for the Coyotes stalwart. He also scored the 400th goal of his career, as you can see in the video above.

That wasn’t all, though. Auston Matthews celebrated his first game against the Coyotes in Arizona by helping his team win, including setting up the first goal of the game:

Lots to digest in an otherwise “shrug” of a game, right?

Top guys: Blue Jackets continue dominance with 12th straight win

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The Columbus Blue Jackets cemented themselves as the No. 1 team in the Metropolitan Division and in the NHL on Friday.

By winning their 12th game in a row with a 2-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens, the Blue Jackets are more clearly seeing the benefits of their hot streak.

And, seriously, it’s been quite the run.

Here’s how the Metro looks at the moment:

1. Blue Jackets – 50 points in 32 games played
2. Penguins – 49 points in 35 GP
3. Rangers – 47 points in 36 GP
4. Capitals – 44 points in 32 GP
5. Flyers – 44 points in 36 GP

Columbus also finds itself on top of the NHL with those 50 points. The Chicago Blackhawks can tie things up with a win tonight, yet even then, the Blue Jackets will hold two games in hand. So, yeah, they’re the best team in the league right now.

As far as Thursday’s game went, it was a tight game where a lot of usual suspects came up big.

Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 out of 37 stops against the Canadiens, winning back-to-back games after allowing just a single goal in each contest. The scorers were also guys who have been generating points consistently for Columbus; Sam Gagner scored his 14th goal of 2016-17 while Brandon Saad nabbed his 13th. Nick Foligno generated two assists.

That’s the sort of work that the Blue Jackets are, dare we say, starting to expect from these guys. Even if it’s still a little shocking to see the wins keep pouring in.

Wildly successful: Minnesota beats Rangers for 10th win in a row

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You know what helps a hot streak get a little extra attention? Pushing those consecutive wins into the double digits.

Last night, we noted that Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild were quietly red-hot, with the team on a nine-game winning streak. They’d been shutting teams down, for the most part, during that run.

A day later, the wins keep coming, but their 7-4 victory against the New York Rangers was a little different.

For one thing, it was Darcy Kuemper in net instead of Dubnyk. Kuemper’s been able to keep things fairly seamless for the Wild, aside from the occasional brain fart.

The Wild are really gaining on the first-place Chicago Blackhawks for the Central Division lead. To some extent, they’re already more impressive, managing a +36 goal differential (Chicago’s at +17).

It’s been an impressive run, one that couldn’t be derailed by a back-to-back set ending against a quality team like the Rangers.

With four of their next six and six of their next nine games on the road, there are some challenges ahead. If they keep things going despite those potential bumps in the road, they’ll deserve even more attention.

Reilly Smith shaken up by big Niklas Kronwall hit (Video)

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People use Niklas Kronwall‘s last name as a verb far less often than they used to, but that doesn’t mean that the Detroit Red Wings defenseman can’t make someone pay with a big check in 2016-17.

The Florida Panthers are currently hoping for the best after Reilly Smith was clearly shaken up by a hard Kronwall hit on Friday.

As you can see from the video above, Smith was in a vulnerable position trying to receive a (“suicide”) pass and absorbed quite the blow. The Miami Herald’s George Richards believes that Smith might be going through concussion protocol, so we’ll find out if he’ll be able to shake that off or if he misses some time.